UK Vaccine Plan Months Ahead of EU, Bloc Has ‘Lowest Productivity’ in Drugs Network, Reveals Pharma Boss

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26: Pascal Soriot, executive director and CEO of AstraZeneca, testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on "Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part II" February 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from a panel of pharmaceutical company CEOs on the reasons …
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The CEO of AstraZeneca has responded to claims from the EU that the drugs company was favouring the UK over Europe, explaining that Brexit Britain was months ahead in organising vaccines, meaning that the bloc is now far behind.

Speaking to multiple European news outlets, Pascal Soriot denied rumours from Brussels bureaucrats that his laboratories based in Europe were sending EU-destined doses of the coronavirus vaccine to the UK. Countries such as Italy are threatening to sue the drugs company after it announced a delay to delivery as a result of issues with production. The European Commission has also announced that it would invoke powers to block the export of vaccines made in the EU if destined for outside of the Union, including to the UK, even if that country has a contract with the drugs manufacturer.

Mr Soriot revealed that the UK had been negotiating and working with AstraZeneca, which developed a COVID vaccine in partnership with the University of Oxford, since early on in the pandemic, signing a contract with the nation in May. While countries like Germany and Italy had come to agreements with AstraZeneca in June, Brussels insisted they could not formalise their deals, with the Commission taking over contracts management of behalf of EU member states. The final agreement was not signed until late August.

British journalist Robert Peston reported that these “extra talks with the European Commission led to no material changes to the contract, but wasted time on making arrangements to make the vaccine with partner sites. The yield at these partner sites has been lower than expected.”

Further, the European Medicines Agency has not even approved the vaccine yet — though is expected to later this week — while the UK signed it off on December 30th.

Asked whether the EU had signed the contract too late, the pharmaceuticals boss told La Repubblica: “I will not pass judgment on this. But I can only tell you the facts and the facts are that we basically signed an agreement with the UK three months before we did have it with Europe.”

As a result, “we were able to quite quickly take the UK supply chain and improve it”. Those extra months gave UK laboratories the time to iron out any manufacturing and delivery problems, meaning that now the British facilities are the most productive, while the European Union has “the lowest productivity in the network”.

Responding to allegations he may be favouring Britain over the EU, Mr Soriot said: “…we’re not doing it on purpose. I’m European, I have Europe at heart. Our chairman is Swedish, is European. Our CFO is European. Many people in the management are European. So we want to treat Europe as best we can. You know, we do this at no profit, remember? We didn’t go into this to try and make money or whatever. We would like to treat Europe as good as possible. I actually do believe we treated Europe fairly.”

He also denied that he had breached agreements with the EU, saying that AstraZeneca did not make a “contractual commitment” with the EU, saying only it agreed to a “best effort” to deliver “because we are three months behind [the] UK”.

Mr Soriot also flatly rejected any suggestion that some of the UK’s orders could be redistributed to the EU, affirming that “the contract with the UK was signed first and the UK, of course, said ‘you supply us first’, and this is fair enough. This vaccine was developed with the UK government, Oxford and with us as well.”

Former Brexit Party MEP Martin Daubney remarked on Soriot’s interview: “The truth is out: the EU signed their vaccine deal 3 MONTHS after the UK. This sums up what Brexiteers saw all along. Whereas Remoaners saw leaving as making us ‘small & isolated’ we always saw ‘quick and nimble’.

“The vaccine calamity shows we were right.”

On Wednesday, AstraZeneca reportedly pulled out of talks with the EU to discuss the alleged commitment and the delays, with an EU source saying Brussels would “insist on them [AstraZeneca]” explaining themselves.

Brexit leader Nigel Farage remarked: “AstraZeneca won’t be scapegoated by the EU Commission and they are right to cancel talks. Time to stand up to bullies.”

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